Forty-four years ago today, several hundred students at Kent State University continued a rampage of anti-war protests, staring down the barrels of military weapons and gagging on the mist of tear gas.
Four died in gunfire. Another nine were wounded.
Is there anything that would compel today’s college students to take the same bold stand — to risk injury and arrest — as those students in 1970?
War? Obviously not. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were far longer than Vietnam, there is no draft, and public polling shows that Americans have had little concern.
So, the Beacon Journal visited the campuses of Kent State and the University of Akron and asked: What would cause you to protest with the fervor of those four decades ago? The answers reflected a generation that has redefined political action, is far removed from war, and has a whole new set of concerns.
At the KSU Student Center, two African-American students have participated publicly in demonstrations of support.
Junior Darnell Craig Griffiths, 20, of Akron, said students do, in fact, gather around common issues. But he said, “It would have to be an event that pertains to us in this day and age and this decade that makes us feel like we have to come together as students as a collective.”
He said that Kent State’s history plays a role. Students “are more quick to collectively get together over issues at this campus.”
He is in hospitality management and entrepreneurship and Pan African studies.
Friday, he attended the Black United Students commemoration of its own campus demonstration 44 years ago — two days prior to the campus shootings.
Sitting at a table with him, Kiara White, 19, of Akron, a sophomore English major, said “serious injustices going on with the school behind the scenes” would motivate her to take part in a demonstration.
She too marched Friday in the BUS demonstration and in the past took part in a local protest following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012.
At Kent State, she said, “You have a lot of young people who are ready to go out and make some noise.”
Inside the UA Student Union, nursing students Allison Stanton and Julia Schwarz both have a high threshold of tolerance, saying it would take quite a bit to convince them to take part in a big demonstration or protest.
Both are white.
Stanton, 19, of Rocky River, a sophomore, said no one likes conflict.
“I would have to be really educated on the subject to have a strong stance on whatever side it is,” she said.
Schwarz, 20, of Medina, also a sophomore, said she too would need to be educated on the topic.
“I wouldn’t just jump out there and be part of something,” she said.
And she said the idea of being part of a big demonstration really is foreign to her.
Schwarz said she imagines there are issues that could arise that could lead students to protest nationally and she thinks “some people are really well educated on issues,” and others aren’t.
“The people who are well educated will protest and there are a lot of people who don’t care and that are sitting back and just watching,” she said.
National research suggests that young people have different definitions of community, communications, mobilization and political action, and that their activity is very different from people who grew up in the Sixties.
According to a survey of 3,000 young people nationwide, the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics found that young people ages 15-25 are highly connected and often participate in some form of political action. Forty-one percent have done so, in some fashion, the study concluded.
It may be the posting of a video on social media, joining an internet group or expressing a position.
For example, a crusade begun in 2011 by a 22-year-old woman on Change.org caused the Bank of America to change its plans to levy a $5 fee on debit card transactions.
The study found that the activism cuts across racial and ethnic boundaries because social media and easy access to mobile devices facilitates connections and the sharing of information.
The finding that young people can express themselves and organize through social media — and get a reaction — suggests that confrontations can occur without face-to-face demonstrations.
At UA, senior Larry Miller, 31, of Doylestown, said he can understand the climate of 1970.
“If you are forced to go to war and aren’t even sure why we were there and all your buddies were dying, I’d be a little pissed off,’’ he said. ‘‘I would protest but I wouldn’t throw rocks at anybody but I suppose if there was an unnecessary war and all my friends were dying, I would probably get pretty upset.”
Today, though, the science education major said: “It would take a hell of a lot to get me angry,” although he could see himself taking part in a protest over high tuition rates.
Michel Yuzik, a 16-year-old junior at KSU who finished high school in ninth grade, said for him, “it would have to be something I really care about.” War would be one of them.
He said he would join a protest against American involvement in the Ukraine or if a military draft were reinstituted — the issue that agitated so many young men in the Sixties.
Still, though, some area students said they could see themselves in the streets over basic rights, the well-being of all, and economic issues.
Nate Lee, 30, of Stow, a KSU junior and an environmental geography major, said he could see himself taking part in demonstrations over climate change.
“I would love for us to band together and try to change how our society uses our resources,” said the student, who worked for two years with AmeriCorps in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state.
KSU’s Stevie Boone, 20, of Garrettsville, a sophomore business management major with a dance minor, said she has taken part in gay rights and anti-Westboro Baptist Church protests.
“I am extremely strong-opinionated on a lot of things,” she said.
Zak Husein, 20, of Springfield Township, an international business major at UA and a first generation American whose parents are Palestinian, said he could see taking part in a demonstration “if they start taking away basic rights ... you have always lived with.”
He said for example, in Saudi Arabia, women do not have the right to drive.
“If they did something like that,” he said, he would join a protest.
Ben Stratton, 22, of Garrettsville, a Kent State junior math major, said something that he felt would have a negative impact on the economy could convince him to join a protest.
“The system we have now is very successful,” he said.
Race continues hot
Two UA African-American male students said race and crime could draw them into a protest.
J-Vonne Dominic Humphreys, 19, of Canton, a freshman, referred to the racial controversy surrounding Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, banned for life from the NBA last week.
“Racially charged things could get me to do something like walk” in a protest, said the political science/criminal justice major.
Gregory Burns, 19, of Canton, a sophomore athletic training major, said community safety events could motivate him.
“There are a lot of shootings and killings going on around the country and here,” he said.
The world, he said, “is kind of scary and messed up and I am about anything that is positive and making change.”
The report on young people and participatory politics can be found on the web at http://ypp.dmlcentral.net/sites/all/files/publications/YPP_Survey_Report_FULL.pdf
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.